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FLX Politics: A busy week for landfilling in Seneca County

On Tuesday, I took a tour of the Seneca Meadows Landfill. The tour provides a somewhat detailed look at the operation many pass on a daily basis – along Route 414 – between Seneca Falls and Waterloo. For those who are not engineers, or waste experts – the entire operation can be very overwhelming. Truck after truck enters the facility, trucks leave, and when they do – they leave significantly lighter.Their trash is left behind, creating a massive behemoth – some have even described as a monster.It’s called municipal solid waste and those are three words everyone understands in Seneca County. That might not have been the case a few years ago. However, things have changed dramatically in the waste landscape – over the last year, or two.When I arrived at Seneca Meadows my first impression was how much larger it had gotten since the last time I had been inside the gates. Roughly four years had passed since the last time I entered the facility for any reason, and my first impression was that it had grown dramatically in that time.More lanes for traffic, more traffic in general within the facility, more mounds of waste within the confines of the facility – and a distinctly more powerful odor than I had ever previously encountered. At the start of the tour, my guide explained to me that the primary cause of the odor is one particular site within the facility, which is the western hill closest to Burgess Road in Waterloo. A variety of factors led to the odor becoming as powerful and potent as it has been over the last several months and year. Fortunately, though, as my guide explained – they believe the odor will become less potent as they work with a new company to bring it under control.The team at Seneca Meadows has ceased landfilling on that particular site until the odor is brought under control completely.Interestingly, it was about 15 minutes into the tour when I began to forget about the terrible smell that had hit me so hard when I first arrived at Seneca Meadows. That struck me because I wondered how many others had experienced something similar. I thought about employees, those who live in close-proximity to the facility, and even those who live further away – but still smell it on a regular basis.As the tour continued, I saw the basin that the team at Seneca Meadows is currently working to fill. Trucks carried their loads to the top of the basin, disconnecting their trailers, hooking them to the tipper – and exiting immediately afterward. An efficient process, even if it may draw some harsh criticism from opponents. The scope of the landfilling process is something that few could truly understand without seeing the sheer volume of waste required to create Seneca Meadows. While it was an enlightening process, the overwhelming takeaway is that an absolutely massive amount of trash is required to create what is located right between Seneca Falls and Waterloo.The sheer volume of technology required to maintain the facility is another awe-inspiring part of the tour. My guide explained the varying levels of piping and systems required to pull the gases from the landfill, the process by which those gases travel across the road to Seneca Energy II – and then the way that gas is processed at the Seneca Energy facilities across the road. Seneca Meadows and Seneca Energy II are not legally bound. Seneca Meadows moves extracted gases from the landfilling operation across the road to Seneca Energy II. While Seneca Energy exists because of Seneca Meadows – it was explained that the two have no connection beyond that point.Seneca Energy has two facilities, which converts gas at the landfill into consumable energy employing a variety of impressive technologies.My tour of the Seneca Meadows and Seneca Energy facilities ended just a couple hours before the Seneca Falls Town Board held their regularly scheduled meeting for the month of May. Few people would have expected the outcome at Tuesday’s Seneca Falls Town Board meeting had they been asked before it got underway.A number of speakers made their case, like most recent meetings in Seneca Falls and Seneca County. The argument being carried unanimously throughout that the time for change is now and those living in the region – really have reached a “breaking point.” At that meeting, the “Town of Seneca Falls Waste Disposal Law,” or Local Law No. 2 of 2016 was introduced by Annette Lutz and seconded by Mary Sarratori. The board as a whole unanimously moved on the law – taking the legislation to the next phase, which will be a public hearing to be held immediately before the June 7th meeting of the Seneca Falls Town Board.The Town of Seneca Falls Waste Disposal Law, or Local Law No. 2 was originally called Local Law No. 7 at the Tuesday meeting. Town Board member Annette Lutz clarified on Thursday that the law would likely be Local Law No. 2 instead. Local Law No. 2 is a seven-page document written by attorney Doug Zamelis, who represents Waterloo Container. Section II of the document highlights the rights of Seneca Falls in creating a law like this one. It cites the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, as inviting “local governments to establish more strict standards as are necessary, in their judgement, to promote and protect the well-being, health and safety of their citizens.”The same section goes on to point out that Seneca Falls being a renowned destination due to its status as the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement, a premier wine region in the U.S., as well as its precious resources including fresh water are all factors that make landfilling an overall negative for the Town.Increased odor, greater truck traffic, in addition to the general health and safety of Town residents are also cited within Section II of the Waste Disposal Law. Section III of the law dives into the purpose it will serve. The Waste Disposal Law would “Restrict the operation of solid waste management facilities within the Town of Seneca Falls in order to promote a clean, wholesome and attractive environment for the community and to protect the town water supply.” It goes on to point out that it would also be created to “Protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents … from undesirable effects of solid waste management facilities.”The same section continues by outlining what undesirable effects are being considered in this law. Some of the effects outlined include: Odors, blowing litter, increased traffic, dust, noise, deterioration of property values, anything that may interfere with the orderly development of properties, as well as threats to public health or the environment by contamination of air, surface water or ground waters.Documentation points out that the law will “apply to all territory within the confines of the Town of Seneca Falls.” In Section VIII it reads, “No solid waste management facility shall hereafter be constructed, allowed to commence operation or to continue operation within the Town of Seneca Falls.”Former Seneca Falls Mayor Brad Jones also outlined what he believed she be part of any local law pertaining to landfilling. He said on Thursday that he remains hopeful that portions of his proposal be included in any local law adopted by Seneca Falls. His proposal highlights four key points, which include:- Denial of any further expansion of the Seneca Meadows landfill as it pertains to the October 2017 permitting process as of May 3rd.- Denial of any new landfills to be allowed in the Town of Seneca Falls nor Seneca County, as of May 3rd.- Denial of any trash from New York City by rail, as proposed recently in a $3.3 billion contract.- To void any ongoing or future decisions by the New York State DEC without Town of Seneca Falls approval, as of May 3rd.One major difference between the two proposals is that Local Law No. 7, as it reads, has already been upheld by the courts in Chautauqua County. Seneca Meadows released a statement following the meeting, in response to the action taken by the Seneca Falls Town Board. The statement read:“Seneca Meadows is committed to controlling odor for our community, and we have, and will be investing in strategic environmental technology to make that happen. Our company has long enjoyed partnering with our community to support the local economy, encourage development and provide family sustaining jobs. We hope to continue to do so.” The last three days have been busy. Witnessing the sheer volume and scope of the operation at Seneca Meadows reminded me just how big the problem is these elected officials are eying down. This new Town Board has skin in the game like no elected officials have before. It’s a sizable challenge that will require a big commitment by the five individuals who sit on the Seneca Falls Town Board.FLX Politics is a weekly feature by Lead News Editor Josh Durso, which takes a close look at policy in the Finger Lakes.

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